“Nothing great can be achieved in art without enthusiasm.” That is one of the many insights in Robert Schumann’s Advice to Young Musicians (Chicago, $18) “revisited” by cellist Steven Isserlis. It is an ideal gift for all music lovers and students—whether adult concert goers or Suzuki beginners. Mr. Isserlis is a world-renowned cellist, and has also written books about composers for children. He calls Schumann a “genius…far ahead of his time” both as a composer and as an educator. In Advice to Young Musicians (first published in 1850), Schumann’s “poetic words of wisdom” are retranslated, and arranged into four themes by Isserlis, who adds his own explanations and witty updates for a modern age. Isserlis ends with a chapter of his own “bits of advice.” I’ll end with words from Isserlis, then Schumann: “…vow never to lose your love for the music itself.” And “relieve the severity of your musical studies by reading poetry. Take lots of walks!”
The photographs collected by Scott Crawford in Spoke: Images and Stories from the 1980s Washington D.C. Punk Scene (Akashic, $24.95) are so vivid and personal, you can almost smell the sweat and stink of the all-ages basement shows and you can definitely hear the pound of the punk rock reverberating off the walls. Crawford continues his investigations into the crucial story of music and dissent he began in his documentary Salad Days through oral histories, ephemera, and photographs from many different on-the-ground sources. This album features histories of Fugazi, Minor Threat, Rites of Spring, Bad Brains, and many other D.C. bands that revolutionized the narrative of punk in this country. A radical coffee-table book, this is the only possible holiday present for punk rockers of any age.
Now that Bob Dylan is officially a Nobel laureate and has accepted his 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature, a new book by Harvard Professor Richard F. Thomas arrives and opens a dialogue on the relevance of Dylan’s artistry, classical literary references, and his importance to “the great American song traditions.” In Why Bob Dylan Matters (Dey Street, $24.99) Professor Thomas expands on the basic outline of his freshman seminar class and adds his own personal and cultural connections to the songs. In one example he traces the cultural significance of “Blowin’ in the Wind” and concludes with the urgency of its questions. The answers are timeless. Dylan often borrowed folk melodies and created something new out of them. From the early influences of Woody Guthrie to the ancient classical poets, and including Dante, Machiavelli, Gogol, Balzac, Maupassant, Hugo, Dickens, and Melville, Thomas looks at how Dylan’s songs borrow and steal from a wide range of literary and song traditions and transform them all into the phenomenon folks simply refer to as “Dylan.”